Since the 2023 session of the Minnesota Legislature ended last May, Land Stewardship Project members have been celebrating our historic wins and preparing to build upon them during the 2024 session, which begins Monday, Feb. 12.
This past summer and fall, LSP organizers engaged in hundreds of one-to-one and group conversations with LSP members, supporters, and allies across the state to identify what folks are hungry for us to champion this year. Then, this fall and winter, LSP’s policy steering committees came together to dig into what organizers and steering committee members have been hearing and experiencing, Based on these meetings, the steering committee evaluated, strategized, and ultimately decided on what LSP will champion in the 2024 legislative session. Below is a summary of our 2024 legislative agenda.
LSP’s 2024 Minnesota Legislative Session Platform
Please note that the following summary does not include what our legislative and organizational partners will be championing and which LSP will be supporting, such as extending the new right-to-repair law to agricultural equipment, reinstating community oversight of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and funding for farmers’ markets and The Good Acre’s LEAFF program.
Increasingly, we are experiencing the effects of climate change — from intense flooding to historic periods of drought — and farmers are on the front lines of this. Agriculture can be a tool to build resilience across our landscapes, sequester carbon, and support our soil’s health. Farmers need every tool available to them to adopt more practices that build healthy soil on the land.
LSP will champion:
- Setting aside 25% of existing soil health cost-share and grant programs for regenerative practices and emerging farmers to increase the impact and equity of state investments in soil health.
- Building upon Olmsted County’s successful Groundwater Protection and Soil Health Program, which pays farmers for results — higher soil carbon, cleaner water, and more resilient landscapes — by expanding it statewide, starting in the vulnerable karst region of southeastern Minnesota.
2) Regional Food Systems
Transforming our farm and food system requires building the infrastructure needed by small and mid-sized farms and by rural and urban communities to create functioning local and regional food systems that support regenerative farming and provide all people with the nourishing foods they want and need.
LSP will champion:
- Increasing Farm-to-School funding, which is particularly important with Minnesota’s new Universal Free School Meals Program. Minnesota’s farmers, littlest eaters, and school districts all win when public school meals are as local and high-quality as possible.
- Piloting local Food Systems Coordinator positions across the state to facilitate relationships between farmers, schools, institutions, and community organizations in order to scale the purchase of local food and support farmers accessing new markets.
3) Land Access & Emerging Farmers
Aspiring farmers want and need hands-on farming experience, but working on a farm generally does not pay enough to allow aspiring farmers to save the money needed to start their own operation. At the same time, emerging, beginning, and small and mid-sized farms are in need of more labor but are financially restricted.
LSP will champion the Next Generation Minnesota Farmer Act, which would create a fellowship program through the state Department of Labor and Industry for aspiring farmers to get hands-on farming skills and farm business management skills on a small or mid-sized farm while being paid a living wage and subsidizing the cost of labor for small and mid-sized farms. The hosting farm would pay the fellowship recipient minimum wage while the state bridges the difference between minimum wage and $20 per hour. This bill was initially developed by the Central Minnesota Young Farmers Coalition, which is no longer operational.
4) Animal Agriculture
Our farm and food system, agricultural and rural economies, as well as our water, soil, and climate, are healthier and more resilient with a less consolidated livestock system. As the livestock sector, particularly dairy, becomes increasingly consolidated, small and mid-sized farms are driven off the land, rural communities face depopulation, and local economies become less resilient. The same forces driving consolidation are also significant contributors to water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. While the biggest operations get bigger, small and mid-sized farms go out of business, water is contaminated, and climate change is exacerbated.
LSP will champion:
- Updating Minnesota Pollution Control Agency feedlot rules and other relevant Minnesota laws to address one of the root causes of nitrate contamination and poor water quality in Greater Minnesota: manure mismanagement.
- Strengthening the environmental review and permitting process of large-scale manure digesters, false climate solutions contributing to the consolidation of the livestock industry.
Following the 2023 Minnesota legislative session, LSP member-leaders and organizers had many deep conversations about the future of LSP’s healthcare organizing. Together, we decided that LSP will not actively participate in healthcare organizing this legislative session. We accomplished so much together, but we recognize that this is the time to acknowledge our strengths and limitations. Our strengths are not in healthcare policy, but in farm and food system policy. Additionally, we lack the dedicated funding and staffing needed to actively organize around healthcare in a meaningful way.
However, we want to emphasize that LSP remains strong in our belief that building a healthcare system that puts people before corporate profits is incredibly important for our farm and food system and our rural, urban, and suburban communities and that this work is far from over, even with the historic wins we had during the last legislative session. If you would like to remain engaged in organizing for a better healthcare system, check out our partners at ISAIAH, UNIDOS, and the Minnesota Farmers Union.
Lay of the Land at the Capitol
Minnesota’s Legislature has a two-year legislative cycle. In odd-numbered years, like 2023, lawmakers create a two-year budget. In even-numbered years, like 2024, they focus primarily on policy (legislation without a fiscal impact), bonding, and amending the two-year budget they passed the year before. The Legislature does not have to accomplish anything this year if it does not want to. (There is no threat of a government shutdown, since a two-year budget is in place.) However, we expect them to take action on a number of issues.
While the state has a $2.4 billion surplus this year, the Legislature will have to make some adjustments to ensure that there is not a deficit in future years. While a number of LSP’s legislative priorities require financial investment from the state, we acknowledge that competing for public dollars may be challenging this year. We will organize to increase funding for existing public programs, like farm-to-school, while aiming to build the support needed to create new public programs — like the Next Generation Minnesota Farmer Act — in 2025 when the Legislature writes its next two-year budget and significantly more funding will be available.
Like last year, there is a DFL trifecta, meaning that party holds the majority in the House, the majority in the Senate, and is in control of the Governor’s office. While this means that the Legislature is relatively amiable to LSP’s legislative priorities, the DFL majorities in the House and Senate are narrow — 34-33 in the Senate and 70-64 in the House. A single Senator or a group of four Representatives can block any piece of legislation. Every single vote matters — we were reminded of this last year when a group of four DFL representatives killed the bill to reinstate the MPCA Community Board.
To ensure we make tangible progress for people and the land this legislative session, we need to organize.
5 Ways to Take Action
If there’s one thing you take away from this blog, let it be this: we need to demonstrate to our legislators and the Governor that their constituents want them to take tangible action to transform our food and farm system. We need all of us to make our vision a reality.
If you have five minutes, an hour, or a day, we need you with us. Here are five ways you can take action:
Join us on Tuesday, Feb. 6, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., to learn more about the legislation LSP is championing this session, how you can get involved in LSP’s organizing for a transformed food and farm system, and to get information on our resources and upcoming trainings. To register, click here.
Join us for the 19th Annual Best Breakfast in Town! During LSP’s 2024 Family Farm Breakfast and Lobby day, gather with hundreds of members and supporters, partners, and public officials over a delicious meal featuring locally sourced products from LSP members’ farms. Hear directly from LSP members about the issues LSP is working on and how we’re organizing for change. Stay for our Lobby Day to meet with your state Senator, state Representative, and/or attend a town hall with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. For details and to register, click here.
(LSP’s 2024 Family Farm Breakfast & Lobby Day is co-hosted by Big River Farms, CURE, Climate Land Leaders, The Good Acre, Greener Pastures, Latino Economic Development Center, Midwest Farmers of Color Collective, Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association, Renewing the Countryside, and Regenerative Agriculture Alliance.)
3) Become a “District Captain”
Join a network of LSP leaders who are inviting LSPers and friends in their area to attend the Family Farm Breakfast, preparing folks attending the Breakfast from their Senate district for their lobby meetings, and more. LSP is providing training, support, a toolkit, contact lists, and a package of goodies to district captains to support them. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Register for an upcoming Campaign Action Meeting for one of our four core campaigns: Climate, Animal Agriculture, Land Access and Emerging Farmers, and Regional Food Systems. At these Campaign Action Meetings, LSP members and supporters will work together to plan and execute tactics to advance our priorities for people and the land. Not all campaigns have Campaign Action Meetings scheduled yet. All meetings are listed on this web page. We will be adding more to that page as they are scheduled.
LSP’s power comes from each of us, our members. Consider joining LSP as a member, renewing your membership, or making a special gift today with a tax-deductible contribution of any amount that’s meaningful to you.
In addition, please consider sharing this blog with your legislators, your neighbors, your family, your friends, your social media networks, people in your faith community, your sheep — it takes all of us!
LSP policy manager Amanda Koehler can be reached at email@example.com.